by Richard L. Tso -
Special to the SGN
When you come face-to-face with someone who wants to hurt you, you feel utterly alone. You may have a loving family at home and friends who believe in you, but when you are looking straight into the eyes of a complete stranger who hates you based on preconceived notions of who you are, it is just the two of you and time stops.
In August 2010, I was invited to Baltimore to give a speech at the eTail conference as vice president of a company I worked for at the time. After my speech, Ajit Kapur followed and cornered me in the Baltimore Hilton Hotel and attacked me for being perceived as Gay while yelling the word 'faggot' repeatedly between each punch.
I am indeed a homosexual, and a proud one at that. But I am also an accomplished businessman and CEO, as well as executive director and board member of the tolerance organization TAP America, a board member of Stanford Pride, a musician, a brother, and a son. My sexuality does not define me, my actions and accomplishments do.
Almost one year later, on May 11, 2011, I sat in a Baltimore courtroom reliving the incident in my mind and hoping to find closure. In State of Maryland v. Ajit Kapur (Case #810344036), I was subpoenaed as a witness and victim and was prepared to take the stand and testify in front of a jury. This was the State's case, and while the district attorney could ask for my input about decisions relating to the case, it was ultimately his decision about how to proceed.
After long negotiations, Ajit Kapur pleaded guilty to Maryland Criminal Law Statute 10-304 which protects citizens against 'Harassment because of another's race, color, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, gender, disability, or national origin.' Sexual orientation was added as recently as 2009 as a protected class. My case was one of the first cases where this updated statute was enforced in the state of Maryland. I was able to submit a victim impact statement before sentencing about how this crime affected me both personally and professionally. Mine is not the only recent case.
Last month, on April 18th, 2011, a young Transgender woman was beaten into a seizure at a Baltimore-area McDonalds. The district attorney has not yet determined if it will be prosecuted as a hate crime. In my own case, Kapur was initially booked for simple assault. It took some convincing by me and my advisors before the district attorney added the hate crime charge.
While I am satisfied with their attentiveness and diligence during my case, it was clear that the judges and lawyers were still becoming familiar with this new law. This is where advocacy is critical. It is not enough to have civil rights statutes on the books - police, lawyers, and judges actually need to enforce these laws to protect us.
These cases highlight the need for similar laws around the United States. States that do not have a statute against hate crimes based on sexual orientation include Alaska, Montana, Idaho, North Dakota, South Dakota, Michigan, Indiana, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Ohio. Even 13 years after the death of Matthew Shepard, Wyoming still does not have such a law.
According to a 2009 Department of Justice report, 48.4% of hate crimes were motivated by racial bias, followed by religious bias (19.7%) and sexual orientation bias (18.5%). Approximately 71.3% of racial bias was anti-black, while 17% was anti-white, and about 71.4% of religious bias was anti-Jewish. Also, 55.7% of all sexual orientation bias was directed against homosexual males.
These figures are indeed startling, but we also must remember that these numbers are under-representative of hate crimes in America because only one-third of victims report such crimes to the authorities. As a nation, we need to take action to prevent these violent acts from occurring in the first place. We not only need to encourage more states to adopt these statutes but we need to encourage law enforcement officials and the judicial system to enforce them in a court of law.
What will it take to keep us safe?
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